What are H-1B Wage Levels

H-1B wage levels are important to understand, especially for international students looking to obtain an H-1B visa. What are H-1B wage levels, how do you find them, and why do you need to know about them? Here’s all of the information you’ll need to understand H-1B wage levels and how they affect H-1B visa applications.  

What Are H-1B Wage Levels?

Also called prevailing wages, H-1B wage levels describe the average wage employees earn in specific areas. Different jobs have their own H-1B wage levels — this data comes from the Foreign Labor Application Data Center, which stores information about jobs all over the country.

Different jobs have different levels of income, and they get ranked from level one to level four, four being the highest. Let’s look at what these levels mean:

H-1B Wage Level 1 is the entry-level wage for H-1B workers who have a basic understanding of performing the job’s duties. The level one wage is in the 17th percentile.

H-1B Wage Level 2 is the next step up. H-1B workers with relevant education and experience usually fall into this category. Level two corresponds to the 34th percentile.

H-1B Wage Level 3 makes up the 50th percentile. This H-1B wage level is given to experienced employees who have a deeper understanding of the job only attainable through years of experience. This wage level may include management work.

H-1B Wage Level 4 is the final level and corresponds to the 67th percentile of H-1B workers. The level four H-1B wage is reserved for competent workers who are experts in their field and typically comes with high-level management responsibilities.

Why H-1B Wages Are Important

  The USCIS and the Department of Labor work together to grant H-1B visas to protect workers from being exploited by unfair labor practices. Because of this, anyone who wants to work abroad in the U.S. must pass the Labor Condition Application (LCA) test before they can accept a job offer or obtain an H-1B visa. One of the primary purposes of this test is to determine a worker’s H-1B wage level to ensure that they get paid fairly regarding their level of education and experience.

H-1B Wage Level Requirements for LCA

When applying for a job from abroad, your H-1B wage level determines what your salary will be; high wage levels mean a higher salary. Here’s the most crucial part: you cannot earn less than your determined H-1B wage level for your particular job in a specified area. If you earn less than your prevailing wage, you won’t be eligible for LCA approval.

Your H-1B wage level is a determining factor and primary requirement for applying for an H-1B visa. This is because H-1B visas get reserved for individuals with specific knowledge and skills that will benefit the country. Lower wage levels, like H-1B level one wages, are typically only given when there is a shortage of a desirable skill in the area you are applying.

If you’re applying for an H-1B job, it’s important to ensure that its wage level supports your case for an H-1B visa. One of the most common reasons for H-1B visas to get denied is when a job you apply for offers too low of an H-1B wage level for the position.  

Related: An International Student’s Guide to Optimize Your Job Search Strategy  

Finding the H-1B Wage Level for LCA

three people sitting at a table

When you’re looking for H-1B wage jobs, it’s essential to know how to find the prevailing wage for the job and area you are applying for. Here’s the easy way to find the wage levels in your area:

Head over to the website of the Foreign Labor Certification Data Center. You’ll see a tab labeled “Wage Library,” and if you open it, you’ll see a search tool.

Now you can add the details of your job and area into the search field to find the specific one you are looking for. If you’re unsure about what industry the job you want to apply for is in, you can browse all of them. While that might take more time, it’s the best way to go about it if you aren’t 100% sure what the job would get classified as.

Once you’ve finished searching and found the job, industry, and area you were looking for, you should see detailed information about the H-1B wage level offered for the position. You can then compare that to the prevailing wage level to see if that job will work for your H-1B visa.

FAQ: H-1B Wage Levels

Let’s break down all of that information into easy answers. Here are the most commonly asked questions about prevailing wages with simplified explanations:

Question: What exactly are prevailing wages and H-1B wages?

First off, prevailing wages and H-1B wages mean the same thing; they are interchangeable terms. These wages are the average amount paid to people working similar jobs in the same area. They are industry and location-specific.

Question: How are H-1B wages determined?

There are three primary factors that determine a prevailing or H-1B wage. They are:

The nature of the job offer.

The location of the job.

The skills, knowledge, and duties required for the job.

Question: Okay, so how does this all work?

Employers are required to pay employees the H-1B wage of the area (or the advertised wage, if it is higher). This allows workers to not have to worry about earning less than candidates with similar qualifications. Basically, H-1B wage levels protect the economy and job market while ensuring that workers get treated fairly.  

Related: Student Immigration Q&A  

H-1B Visas & Wage Levels

woman laughing in a room

It’s not uncommon for international students to apply for an H-1B visa, and understanding prevailing wage levels is essential for a successful application. This requires the approval of your LCA, and the job you apply for must be approved by the U.S. Department of Labor.

You can use the information above to find the H-1B wage levels for the jobs you want to apply for in your specific area. Remember, to get approved for an H-1B visa; the job offer must pay a salary that matches or exceeds the wage level in its immediate location.  

Are you an international student looking for the tools to succeed? Check out Interstride for students to get everything you need from career opportunities and visa support to productivity tools and more!

What You Need to Know About H-1B Processing Time

If you didn’t already know, the H-1B visa allows companies and employers in the United States to temporarily employ workers from other countries in specialty occupations. These occupations typically account for the information technology sector in the United States. According to the United States Department of Labor, individuals who apply for this status need a four year bachelor’s degree from an accredited United States college/university or equivalent to qualify.

 

When applying for the H-1B work visa it is important to account for the unpredictable processing time. This processing time could take a few weeks or months. The H-1B process can seem daunting at first, but it doesn’t have to be. In this blog, we provide information about the processing time and what to expect when applying for the H-1B work visa.

Estimated H-1B Processing Time in 2021

 

In 2021, it is estimated that the standard H-1B processing time can take 3 months to a 1 year to be approved. Then the receipt for applying typically takes 3 to 21 days to arrive. One way around this lengthy processing time and waiting period is H-1B premium processing, which can speed the approval process up to 1 to 15 days.

 

However, the premium processing route is around $2,500 more expensive. If premium processing is being used and for some reason the application has not been processed in 15 days, the fee will be refunded in full. Additionally, with premium processing, the receipt for applying is usually sent in 1 to 3 days but can take up to 21 days to arrive. It is important to remember that paying for premium processing does not help you get approved, rather it provides an answer sooner.

 

It is important to note that during the Coronavirus Pandemic, the H-1B visa process has maintained its processing times and has not seen impacts from government shutdowns.

Longer Processing Times and Denial Rates

 

In some cases, the H-1B visa processing time can be longer than previously mentioned. If this happens to you, your application may be stuck in the processing stage. To get answers on the status and what is making the application take longer to process, you can contact your employer or attorney to ask them to put in a service request with the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS).

 

To do this, you will need your receipt and the date when your case was filed. If for some reason, you are experiencing a longer processing time, doing this might help resolve the issue sooner and get your application moving again. You, yourself, can also check the case processing time on the USCIS website by inputting the form and field office information from a form you can find here.

 

With every H-1B visa application, there is a chance of being denied. Understanding denial and approval rates can allow you to make educated choices when applying for jobs. Denial rates have shown that consulting companies have a lower rate of H-1B approvals in comparison to other companies. The table below shows examples of companies with estimated low or high rates for approvals and denials.

 

CompanyApproval RateH-1B Lottery or Transfer Approval RateH-1B Extension Approval RateDenial Rates
Cognizant68% (low)38% (low)71% (low)52% (high)
Capgemini60% (low)20% (low)74% (low)27% (mid)
Cummin97% (high)96% (high)95% (high)2.17% (low)
Google98% (high)99% (high)99% (high)15% (mid)

 

This chart shows just a few examples of companies with low or high approval and denial numbers. Before applying to a company, where you will need a H-1B visa, it can be helpful to know the odds of whether you will get approved or not. Additionally, knowing this information may influence where you choose to apply to or where you choose not to apply to.

 

Helpful Tools and Resources

 

You do not have to feel alone while going through the H-1B visa application process, especially when you are waiting during the processing time. There are tools and resources that can help guide you throughout the process.

 

Case Status Checker: This tool helps you check your case status online and all you need to check the status is your receipt number.

Reports and Studies: These resources allow you to learn more about the inner workings of visa application processing, including the H-1B visa application approval process and processing time.

 

If you are looking for more helpful tools or resources throughout the H-1B process, USCIS offers a variety of tools and resources here.

 

How to Know if You Are Approved and What Comes After

 

The H-1B visa process can take some time, specifically anywhere between days to weeks to a year. If USCIS approves your H-1B visa application, your employer should receive the petition receipt and forward it to you. On this document, you will find the petition receipt number. This number is important for keeping track of your case and approval. This number can also be used to check the status of your case on the USCIS website throughout the processing time. Once you have received your official approval, you can begin to schedule your stamping interview.

 

Waiting is never easy, but it is important to stay positive throughout the waiting process until you are approved. If you begin to feel anxious because it has been awhile since you heard anything, don’t hesitate to look up your case number and see where your application is in the application process. Doing this might also allow you to make an educated estimate on how much longer it could take for you to get an answer. The H-1B visa application process and processing time does not have to be daunting if you approach it one step at a time.

How to transition from an H-1B Visa to a Green Card

If you are looking to transition your status within the U.S. from an H1B visa to a Green Card, you likely already know what the H-1B Visa is. If not, knowing the goal of the H-1B is an important part of the transition process. Here is a short description of the H-1B Visa.

The H-1B Visa is a popular work permit program for international students who have completed their higher education in the United States and plan to work within the country.

The program allows employers to hire international talent, as long as the applicants hold a university degree and have a well-defined skill area that an American employer can benefit from.

The H-1B visa is a nonimmigrant work permit that allows foreign workers to temporarily work in the US. It also allows applicants to live in the US for up to 6 years, and reenter as often as they like while the H-1B is active.

Why is the H-1B so popular? Relative to the standard Permanent Resident Card application process, obtaining an H-1B is usually easier and faster. The Department of Labor also has rules for how foreign workers are paid. The rate of pay must be on par with what similarly qualified talent from the U.S. would make.

Transitioning from the H-1B to a Green Card

For many foreign workers in the U.S., there comes a time when transitioning to a more permanent Green Card becomes necessary. Fortunately, making the transition from an H-1B visa to a Green Card is relatively simple.

There are several steps that Permanent Resident Card applicants must follow for a successful H-1B visa to Green Card transition to take place. As long as each of the steps falls into place as needed, the Green Card will be granted and a permanent residence within the U.S. will become a reality.

Step 1 – Employer

An employer is essential for the H-1B to Permanent Resident Card process. It is not possible to get an employment-based Green Card without gaining sponsorship from an employer.

In many cases, the same employer that sponsored the H-1B visa can also provide sponsorship for a Green Card. There are cases, however, when employers do not meet the suitability requirements to become sponsors for foreign hires.

Additionally, the job/position/role requirements for H-1B and Green Card status differ. It is important to check whether your current position is acceptable for the Green Card requirements.

Step 2 – PERM Labor Certification

Once an employer has agreed to the Green Card sponsorship process, the PERM Labor Certification is the employer’s first step to get the ball rolling.

Through the PERM Labor Certification process Green Card applicants learn their future wage and position within their chosen company. The wage requirements for the Green Card are similar the H-1B’s wage requirements. Without making these determinations, the Green Card process cannot continue.

Step 3 – File Form I-140

After the PERM Labor Certification has been filed and approved, the employer should file Form I-140.

The I-140 does a few different things, but most importantly, it proves to the USCIS that an applicant’s employer can, indeed, provide the benefits specified in the PERM Labor Certification. AS part of the application process, an employer must show proof of financial stability.

When the I-140 has been submitted, there is a bit of a waiting game that begins. A priority date is given, and an applicant must wait until that date becomes active. Once the priority date becomes current, the applicant can file the final form – the I-485.

Step 4 – File Form I-485

Form I-485 is the final step in the process of getting a Permanent Resident Card and switching an applicant’s status from non-immigrant to immigrant. In fact, the I-485 is the ‘Green Card’ form. Once approved, permanent residence is granted.

 

H-1B to Green Card Timeline

The H-1B to Green Card timeline is straightforward and there is an average rate at which Permanent Resident Cards are granted through the process. As many applicants have differing circumstances, however, there are some variables that can either quicken or slow the process.

In general, applicants should expect their H-1B to Green Card application process to take up to 6 months under normal conditions. That timeline can extend well beyond the 6-month expected Green Card application process for several reasons.

Avoid Waiting to Begin the Green Card Process

It is wise not to wait too long before initiating the H-1B to Green Card application process. There are several reasons for getting the application started as soon as you can, but here are a few of the most common considerations that applicants are often faced with:

  • Potential issues with paperwork causing the Green Card application process to slow down.
  • Application audits can add a considerable amount of time to the application approval timeline. While audits are somewhat uncommon, they do occur, and it is wise to allow for these when deciding when to apply.
  • Applying too late. The process for transitioning from H-1B status to a Green Card can take up to 6 months. If an applicant’s H-1B has expired, the transition from the H-1B can no longer take place.
  • Mistakes on the government side. While it is not that common, many immigration lawyers point out that mistakes can happen on the .gov side. These types of mistakes can result in denials of applications. When an application is denied at no fault of the applicant or sponsoring employer, the applicant can file an appeal. An immigration lawyer can file the necessary documents.

 

Considerations When Filing for Permanent Residence

Making the switch from a temporary, non-immigrant visa to a permanent residence can be extremely exciting. Despite that excitement, always be sure to dot your ‘i’s and cross your ‘t’s when it comes to filling out paperwork and providing the required information.

The process of switching from an H-1B visa to a Permanent Resident Card is not difficult. However, missing any of the essential steps or filing information that is either partial or false can result in a denial of the application.

For that reason, always provide all information that is requested. Begin the application process for your Green Card as early as possible. Seek legal help if you believe that something is amiss.

 

Related Questions

How long does it take to get a Green Card from H-1B?

It can take up to 6 months to get a Green Card from an H-1B visa. The process can take up to a year if any issues arise during the approval process. It is a good idea to begin the H-1B to Green Card application process as soon as you have made the decision to remain in the United States.

Can an H-1B holder get a Green Card?

Yes. An H-1B holder can get a Green Card. The process to go from H-1B to a Green Card focuses on modifying an applicant’s immigration status. As long as the H-1B visa is valid, the holder of that visa may apply to change the status of immigration.

Optional Practical Training (OPT) for F-1 Students

Working in the United States either while studying or after can prove to be an incredible experience for most international students. For many, optional practical training (OPT) for F-1 students is the first step in that process. 

Seeing what it takes to succeed in the U.S. job market can provide invaluable lessons that stick with students for life. The experience of working in the U.S. also creates opportunities for students that they would not find anywhere else.

Whether looking to build a professional network, gain valuable job experience to help with an application for permanent residency, or anything in between, the benefits are certainly numerous.  

 

OPT Application Process

The application for Optional Practical Training begins with a visit to the designated school official (DSO). The DSO has all necessary paperwork and will know about any changes or special circumstances regarding a student’s situation. 

The DSO will endorse Form I-20, update the required information within the SEVIS system, and provide guidance on filling out Form I-765. Once the F-1 student and DSO successfully submit the required paperwork, it is up to the USCIS to complete the process. 

In general, the process runs smoothly. It is important to remember, though, that it can take up to three months for the application to process. 

OPT Rules and Guidelines

As with all things immigration, OPT comes with quite a few rules and regulations that students should be aware of. And, while the complete list of rules can be found on the USCIS website and in the DSO office, there are some common rules that all students benefit from knowing. 

Duration of OPT Status

A common question regarding OPT is how long the program lasts and if the program can be broken up into smaller periods. 

OPT can be taken before a degree is earned and after. When taken before (pre-completion), OPT can be used in pieces. When taken after graduation (post-completion), the remaining time – the original 12 months, minus any used time from before graduation – occurs in one session. 

Employment Considerations for OPT

In order to apply for OPT permission, there is no requirement that international students have a job or even a job offer. The application is simply a way to get permission from the U.S. Immigration office to work in the United States. 

However, once you get OPT approval, you will need employment. If for whatever reason international students on OPT cannot find paid work, it is also possible to volunteer for 20 hours a week to satisfy the requirement. 

OPT Unemployment

Although there is a requirement for employment, there is also an allowable period for looking for work. F-1 students with OPT permissions have a maximum of 90 days allowed (from 365) without working. 

This means there is generally ample time to find employment, switch between jobs, and manage time for other considerations. It is useful to note, however, that going past the 90 days that are allowed will make it more difficult to transition from OPT to H-1B (insert link), or from H-1B to Green Card (insert link) later on. 

OPT Extensions

There are two primary ways that international students can extend OPT permission. They can apply for a STEM OPT extension which allows for an additional 24 months or apply for a regular OPT extension after completing a second (higher) degree. 

The Role of STEM

International students who have completed a degree in one of the STEM fields of study can apply for a STEM extension once they have completed the regular OPT 12-month period. The extension can be up to 24 months making it possible for international students to stay in the U.S. for three years after their graduation. 

In addition to the first STEM extension, there is also a possibility for a second. To get a second STEM extension, students must complete another degree, another year of traditional OPT, and then apply for their second round of STEM OPT. 

 

Final Thoughts

Thanks to various immigration programs aimed at helping international students, it is quite possible for F-1 students to remain in the U.S. after school for a considerable amount of time.  Should they decide to stay, transitioning from an OPT to an H-1B, or an H-1B to a Green Card, is a more permanent solution. 

Related Questions

What is the main difference between the H-1B and the OPT? 

There are some important differences between the H-1B and the OPT. For one thing, the H-1B visa is for longer-term stays. The H-1B is also commonly referred to as a work visa. The OPT, on the other hand, is connected to the student visa (F-1). It only lasts for one year (or two years for STEM students). 

Can I transition to H-1B status from OPT?

Transitioning to an H-1B visa from Optional Practical Training is possible. International students wishing to obtain an H-1B visa should apply for the working visa while still completing the OPT. To file for an H-1B, students must find a suitable employer who files a petition. They should also seek to be included in the 65,000 available H-1Bs each year.  

How long does it take to get OPT approval? 

Approval for Optional Practical Training can take up to three months from the application date. In general, students entering their final semester should begin the OPT application process to ensure a smooth transition. 

Want to Stay in the US? Transition from OPT to H-1B

When an international student’s optional practical training (OPT) begins to wind down, making the switch to an H-1B or Green Card is a common idea that comes up.While it is possible to remain in the U.S. on the OPT program for several years, many people decide that a more permanent working situation within the United States could fit their goals better. In these cases, making the switch to an H-1B or a Green Card begins to make a lot of sense.

Making the Switch

The first thing that you will need to do when making the switch from an F1 visa to an H-1B is to gather all the required documents. A helpful checklist can be found here.

In short, Form I-129 must be completed and submitted along with all other required documentation. However, there are a few things that H-1B hopefuls must keep in mind while embarking on the H-1B journey.

Here is a brief outline of the process:

Gather Documents for OPT to H-1B Transition

When preparing a petition for an H-1B, you will need several essential documents.

  • A CV or Resume – One of the requirements of the H-1B is that applicants have a specific field or expertise. Submitting a detailed CV or resume helps the USCIS identify what that expertise is.
  • Passport – A passport is also required for change-of-status requests and visa applications.
  • Degree – Another requirement for an H-1B is to show that you hold a university degree. While there are some exceptions to this requirement, most applicants will need to provide proof that they are, indeed, skilled workers who can fill the job roles they are applying for. Along with a university degree, transcripts are also requested.
  • Forms I-20 and I-94 – Form I-20 and I-94 are proof that an F-1 visa exists and that immigration status is valid. Showing these as part of the process of switching from an F-1 visa to an H-1B visa is necessary.
  • When applying for an H-1B from an OPT program, showing documentation for OPT is also required.

Finding Sponsorship

To apply for an H-1B visa, whether you are on OPT or not, it is necessary to find an employer who is willing to be a sponsor. There are many employers who are happy to do this and knowing where to look for potential options is a great place to begin.

There are two conditions that the USCIS looks at when determining the employer’s ability to be a valid sponsor.

The first consideration is whether the employer is prepared to pay a wage that equals at least 95% of what U.S. citizens would make for the same job title.

For obvious reasons, this requirement is in place to protect the H-1B holder and it is always a good idea to make sure that the employer follows this rule.

Another consideration that the USCIS takes into account is the level of competition for a particular job description. This rule is in place to protect American workers from losing jobs to foreign nationals and the employer is required to offer the same position to local workers as well as H-1B holders.

This second consideration is important to know about because different fields and jobs will carry varying levels of competition and some can be, therefore, more difficult to get approval for.

File Petition

The employer is the one who will file the application for an H-1B. There are numerous rules associated with the application process, as well as a cap on how many applicants can be approved.

While the process and payments involved with applying for an H-1B visa are relatively straightforward, one of the more challenging parts of the process is dealing with the cap that is placed on new applicants. Important information regarding the timeline for the application process can be found here.

Generally speaking, there is a cap of 85,000 new H-1Bs each year with 20,000 of those reserved for graduate degree holders. Regardless of how many new applicants there are only those who ‘beat the cap’ will be able to work on an H-1B. It is good to apply as soon as possible to avoid getting left behind.

Cost of Filing an H-1B

The cost of filing an H-1B is multi-faceted and applicants should be aware of the various fees included in the process. There is a filing fee, an ACWIA fee, a fraud prevention fee, and a legal fee. Here is a breakdown on each:

  • Filing Fee –  The filing fee is required to start the process of getting an H-1B visa. The filing fee is $460, though this is updated from time to time. It is always a good idea to check the latest updates on fees here and here.
  • ACWIA Fee – The American Competitiveness and Workforce Improvement Act of 1998 (ACWIA) states that employers with fewer than 25 employees must pay a fee of $750 and employers with more than 25 employers should pay a fee of $1,500.
  • Fraud Prevention Fee – The fee for fraud prevention is $500.

Final Thoughts on Switching from OPT to H-1B

Whether you are going to an H-1B from an F-1 visa or from an OPT program, the process is pretty straightforward, though not always easy.

Many international students have trouble finding employers who not only meet the criteria to be valid employers for the H-1B visa, but also who are willing to go through the hosting process. The process can be both time-consuming and expensive for some employers.

That should not stop you though. There are many employers who understand the value that international workers bring to the table, and they are certainly ready and able to help.

Check out the H-1B employment resources at Interstride for more comprehensive guidance in finding and securing your H-1B status.

Related Questions

Is it possible to apply for H-1B status by myself? 

It is not possible to apply for an H-1B alone. Part of the application process asks for information from an employer, and this information is required for the successful completion of Form  1-129.

What should I do if my H-1B visa application was denied?

It depends on the reason for the denial. If the applicant missed the deadline or was not chosen for the H-1B lottery, it is possible that waiting and filing early the following year is the best course of action. If the application was denied for any other reason, such as an employer fault, missing paperwork, incomplete payment, etc. A new application with corrected information will be required.

How to Apply for OPT as an International Student

As an international student, you are eligible to work in the U.S. for up to a year on your F-1 visa through something called Optional Practical Training (OPT). You DO NOT have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. OPT is a 12-month work authorization program that permits international students to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. In general, you must work in a job that is directly related to your area of study. A 2-year extension of standard OPT is available to students pursuing STEM majorsYou aren’t automatically eligible though. You must first apply to the federal government for employment authorization. 

Fortunately for you, the process is relatively straightforward. Nonetheless, we’ve assembled this helpful guide to both explain the program and get you started. 

Types of OPT

You are eligible to apply for work authorization through OPT while you are still in school. This is called “Pre-Completion OPT.” Pre-completion OPT allows you to work part-time while class is in session and full-time when class isn’t in session. 

You are also eligible to apply for OPT after you graduate for either part-time or full-time work. This is called…any guesses? 

“Post-Completion OPT.”

The government allows you to take advantage of both types. You aren’t limited to just one. However, you ARE limited to 12 months total of full-time equivalent work for both pre-completion and post-completion combined.  

So, you’ll want to think strategically about how you use your 12 months. Most students wait to start their OPT until after they’ve graduated. 

OPT and STEM Majors

STEM OPT is a 2-year extension of standard OPT for recent graduates who have completed their education in a science, technology, engineering or math degree program. 

To be eligible for STEM OPT, you must have already been granted OPT. Furthermore, the government will only grant STEM OPT to those who are in “Post-Completion” OPT. In other words, the program is for graduates, not current students. 

Combining Post-Completion OPT with the STEM extension allows you to stay in the U.S. for three years after graduation on your F-1 student visa. 

You can learn more about the program on the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States STEM OPT website. 

OPT Eligibility

You DO NOT have to have a job offer to apply for OPT. 

In order to apply for optional practical training, you must be able to respond “yes” to the following questions:

  • Is your I-20 current?
  • Have you been a full-time student for at least one full academic year?
  • Do you have a valid, unexpired passport?
  • Have you used fewer than 12 months of full-time curricular practical training?
  • Does it reflect your current field of study and educational level?
  • Have you been registered full-time as an F-1 student every semester you attended school? 

Thinking ahead: When should you apply for OPT?

The United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) is responsible for the OPT program. After you apply for work authorization through OPT, it can take the USCIS up to three months to process your application and mail your employment authorization card.

So, you need to think ahead a little and not wait until the last minute to get started. 

You are not eligible to begin Pre-Completion OPT until you have completed a year of study in the U.S. as an F-1 student. Nonetheless, the government allows you to apply as early as 90 days before you even begin your first year. If you think you might work as a student, you should consider starting the application process as soon as possible. 

If you are seeking Post-Completion OPT, the application window is more restrictive. 

For post-completion, you can apply between 90 days before graduation and 60 days after graduation. 

How to apply for OPT

Now that you know to start early and allow yourself plenty of time, what exactly does starting the process look like?

Your first step will be to see if your college or university can help. Fortunately for you, many international centers offer resources, information sessions, and one-on-one counseling to help students with OPT. 

Then, have your Designated School Official (DSO) endorse your Form I-20 (Certification of Eligibility for Nonimmigrant Student Status) and make the appropriate notation in your profile in the Student and Exchange Visitor Information System (SEVIS). This step is something your DSO will already understand without you having to explain anything. The school is likely to have a process in place for this already, usually as an online form through the school’s website. 

Next, fill out Form I-765 (Application for Employment Authorization) and mail it to USCIS. 

You can fill out the form as a printable PDF online and then print it. Or, you can print it and then fill it out by hand using black ink. 

The form is seven pages long and has basic questions about your identity, immigration status, eligibility, and reason for applying. You are allowed to have an interpreter help or a preparer fill out the form based on the information you provided, but you must identify those people and they must sign it. 

The government uses this form for other immigration statuses as well, including asylum seekers and dependents of foreign diplomats. So there may be some sections that do not apply to you as an F-1 student. The form has detailed instructions for how to fill out those sections that don’t apply. 

Finally, consider having an advisor at your school look over the form before you mail it in.

You’re approved for OPT! Now what?

OPT is a short program. Those 12 months will be up before you know it, and you need to be ready for the next phase in your life. 

If you studied in the sciences, technology, engineering or mathematics fields, you may be eligible for a 24-month extension once your original OPT runs out. 

Otherwise, you are going to want to apply for H-1B status. Getting an H1-B is not easy, and the process is highly competitive. So you should always have a Plan B. 

Good luck on your OPT journey. If you remember to start early and work closely with your university, you should be just fine. 

Optional Practical Training (OPT) vs. STEM OPT

As an international student, you’ve probably read or heard about Optional Practical Training (OPT) and maybe even STEM OPT. 

Both are work authorization programs for students in the United States on an F-1 visa. But what’s the difference?

In a nutshell, STEM OPT is a 3-year extension of standard OPT for students or recent graduates who are studying or have completed their education in a science, technology, engineering or math degree program. 

But let’s take a closer look at both. 

What is OPT

OPT is a 12-month work authorization program that permits international students to gain professional experience without having to apply for an H-1B visa. In general, you must work in a job that is directly related to your area of study. 

You are eligible to apply for work authorization through OPT while you are still in school. This is called “Pre-Completion OPT.” You are also eligible to apply for OPT after you graduate through “Post-Completion OPT.” 

Post-completion OPT has the added benefit of allowing you to remain in the United States on an F-1 visa after you graduate. 

The government allows you to take advantage of both types. However, there IS a 12-month limit. That includes full-time equivalent work for both pre-completion and post-completion combined.  

The overwhelming majority of students wait until after graduation to take advantage of OPT. This strategic decision allows them to maximize their time in the United States through the program. 

In 2018, for example, almost 200,000 students received either post-completion OPT or the STEM extension. Only about 2,000 students applied for and were granted pre-completion OPT. 

OPT in one form or another has existed in the United States since 1947. 

All students are eligible to apply for OPT, regardless of their major. Most schools have staff and resources through their international centers to help students navigate OPT. 

Because OPT is a relatively short program, students should always think about what their options are for after their 12 months is over. Once your post-completion period ends, you need to seek alternative options for continuing your career. 

The end of OPT is a time when many recent international graduates will apply for an H-1B visa. H-1B visas, though, are highly competitive, and students should always have a Plan B. 

For those with STEM backgrounds, your plan B could include applying for the STEM OPT extension. 

What is STEM OPT

The U.S. government has a vested interest in making sure that there are enough people in the American workforce with degrees in science, technology, engineering and math. These professionals are in high demand, and the U.S. economy depends heavily on manufacturing,  technology and other industries that need STEM talent. 

The government launched the STEM extension program in 2008, and initially it permitted 17 months of additional employment. In 2016, however, the government changed it to 24 months. 

In 2018, more than 50,000 students were granted the STEM extension. That number is likely to grow under the Biden administration. That’s because President Joe Biden announced he was expanding the list of academic fields that qualify as STEM degrees

To be eligible for STEM OPT, you must have already been granted OPT. Furthermore, the government will only grant STEM OPT to those who are in “Post-Completion” OPT. In other words, the program is for graduates, not current students. 

Combining Post-Completion OPT with the STEM extension allows you to stay in the U.S. for three years after graduation on your F-1 student visa. 

You can learn more about the program on the Department of Homeland Security’s Study in the States STEM OPT website. 

U.S. Work Visas and Permanent Residency After Graduation: Setting Yourself Up for Success

This blog post was co-authored by Legalpad – Legalpad immigration experts help international students move closer to work visa and permanent residency goals quickly and efficiently.

Are you an international student studying in the U.S. and hoping to stay here and work after graduation? Navigating all the work visa and permanent residency options can be overwhelming. Let’s break down your options in detail for both undergraduate and graduate-level study. 

Working During and After Graduation as an International Student  

International students should begin thinking about their post-graduation work options in advance to set themselves up for success when navigating the complex U.S. immigration system. 

International students on an F-1 visa can legally work in the U.S. for up to one year after graduation through the Optional Practical Training (OPT) program, while certain STEM majors can extend OPT for up to two more years. OPT allows undergraduate and graduate international students to start working right after graduation or while they are still finishing their degrees. In some cases, OPT can also be used by a student entrepreneur to start their company before or after graduation.

Once OPT or STEM OPT expires, international students only have 60 days to leave the U.S. or find alternative work authorization. Therefore, the sooner you start exploring work visa options, the better. If you wait until college graduation to begin the process, you will likely have to leave the U.S. at the end of the 60-day grace period. Use this guide to learn more about U.S. work visa options for international students.

U.S. Work Visa Options for International Students After Graduation

If you don’t qualify for OPT or want to stay in the U.S. after your OPT expires, you will need a U.S. work visa. The four most common temporary work visas are the H-1B, E-2, TN, and O-1A. For international students seeking permanent residency, the two best employment-based green card options are EB-2 NIW and EB-1A. Each visa and green card has different qualifications, application requirements, and processing times. 

H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa is the most popular temporary work visa. The U.S. uses a lottery system for H-1B visa selection. Here’s what you should know about the H-1B lottery:

  • 65,000 visas are given to those with a bachelor’s degree.
  • An additional 20,000 visas are given to those with a master’s degree or higher. 
  • Your employer must apply for the lottery in March.
  • You can begin working on an H-1B in October of the same year.

If your student visa or OPT grace period is set to expire before October, the employer can also apply for an H-1B Cap Gap Extension so that you can remain in the U.S. until the H-1B becomes effective. The H-1B visa lasts six years with the possibility to extend and apply for permanent residency. 

E-2 Visa

The E-2 visa may be a good option for student entrepreneurs. To qualify, you must be from a treaty country and invest a significant amount of seed money into your company. The amount that counts as significant depends on the value of the company. You must also own at least 50% of the company. 

There is no degree requirement for an E-2 visa which means that a qualifying student entrepreneur could apply before they graduate. This visa can be extended indefinitely as long as the business is operational and viable.

TN Visa

A TN visa can work well for international students from Canada or Mexico. Only specific occupations qualify for this visa, some of which include:

  • Nursing and other medical professions
  • Teaching higher education
  • Engineering
  • Accounting

While you must have at least a bachelor’s degree to apply, there is no limit on the number of visas offered each year. A TN visa lasts three years with the option to renew indefinitely. However, unlike the H-1B and E-2, a TN visa is not for dual intent. That means it’s more complex and challenging to apply for permanent residency while on a TN visa.

O-1A Visa

The O-1A is a temporary work visa for individuals with extraordinary abilities. It’s one of the best options for student entrepreneurs because there is no specific degree or income requirements. Other international students may qualify for this visa if they have demonstrated extraordinary abilities in one of the following areas:

  • Science
  • Arts
  • Education
  • Business
  • Athletics

To prove extraordinary ability for an O-1A visa, you must meet three out of eight criteria. You can begin working to meet some of these criteria while still in college. The visa is valid for three years and can be extended indefinitely. You can also apply for permanent residency while on an O-1A visa. 

EB-2 NIW 

The EB-2 National Interest Waiver (NIW) is a permanent immigrant petition. You will need to have either an advanced degree or exceptional ability to qualify. If you are applying as a student entrepreneur, you must prove that your company has strong potential to be successful and make a positive impact in the U.S. in the future. Examples include:

  • Economic impact: creating more jobs
  • Social impact: providing a public service

Once your EB-2 NIW is approved, you will have to wait until your green card is processed before you can use it to legally work in the U.S. This can take up to a year, so consider applying at least 12 months before graduation or before your OPT expires. EB-2 NIW processing times are especially high for students from China and India. 

EB-1A 

EB-1A is one of the most difficult U.S. green card pathways because you must prove that you are in the top 1% of your field. You will be judged based on three out of ten criteria. If you are thinking about an EB-1A green card, start preparing while you are still in school. The time it takes to get a green card through the EB-1A tends to be shorter than the process with the EB-2 NIW. However, you should still plan to apply for the EB-1A at least a year before your OPT expires.

International students from China and India may be particularly interested in an EB-1A because it offers shorter wait times for individuals from these countries than other permanent residency options. 

Timeline and Tips for Setting Yourself up for Success

The benefit of researching and preparing for work visas before you graduate is that you can leverage your time in college to meet the qualifications for competitive visas like the O-1 and EB-1A. Here are some tips for setting yourself up for success as an international student:

  • Try to get featured in the press during school
  • Compete in relevant industry competitions
  • Join a reputable professional organization relevant to your field of study

Some visa options may be a better fit for undergraduate students while others may be suited for graduate students. Legalpad can help you decide whether to apply for a temporary visa such as an O-1 versus a permanent residency petition such as the EB-2 NIW. For example, if you plan to graduate or finish OPT within the next year, consider applying for an O-1 since it usually has faster processing times than a green card.

Finding the Right Immigration Path After Graduation 

Choosing the best immigration path starts with your specific immigration goals. Do you want to stay in the U.S. temporarily after graduation to work for a few years and then go back home or relocate to a different country? Or, is your ultimate goal to establish permanent residency in the U.S.? Furthermore, if you are an entrepreneur, your immigration path may look different than that of a full-time employee. 

Legalpad can help move you closer to your work visa and permanent residency goals quickly and efficiently. Their immigration experts simplify the annoying complexities of the U.S. immigration system to make remaining here after graduation as stress free as possible. Legalpad offers a free one-on-one consultation to get you started on the exploration of your post-graduation options.

Want to Immigrate to Canada, Eh?! Here’s What You Need to Know

This blog post was co-authored by MobSquad – MobSquad helps technology professionals continue working with their current U.S. company, nearshore from Canada.

In recent years, the U.S. has increased restrictions on legal immigration while the number of people immigrating to Canada has steadily climbed. With a similar climate, culture, and lifestyle as the U.S., Canada is an appealing choice for many foreign nationals. International students and STEM professionals in the U.S. may be pleasantly surprised at how much more immigrant-friendly Canada is.

As the demand for technology professionals across the world continues to rise, companies are aggressively seeking and recruiting highly-qualified tech workers. International students studying or working in the U.S. can consider Canada and get expedited immigration through the country’s Global Talent Stream.

Answered by an Immigration Expert: Relocating to Canada

To get you the information you need to know about immigrating to Canada, we spoke to Yulia Kan, a Canadian Immigration Consultant at Envoy Global. Yulia provides immigration advice and support to international students like you looking to immigrate to Canada. She is an immigrant to Canada herself, having started her immigration journey as an international student. Now Yulia is a proud Canadian citizen. Her personal and professional experience navigating the immigration system makes her an invaluable resource and support to her clients.

Read the full interview with Yulia below for expert answers to the most frequently asked questions from tech professionals looking to relocate to Canada.

What’s the process to immigrate to Canada through the Global Talent Stream as a highly skilled worker in the technology field?

Yulia: Global Talent Stream is a specific stream for Canadian employers to hire tech talent from outside Canada due to the local shortage of skilled professionals in the tech field. Once the foreign skilled worker is identified by the Canadian employer, they (the Canadian employer) must submit an application for Labour Market Impact Assessment under Global Talent Stream (“LMIA-GTS”). If approved, this will allow the foreign skilled worker to then apply for their work permit in Canada. LMIA-GTS is a specialized and expedited stream which will take approximately 2 to 3 weeks to finalize. The Canadian employer will need to pay the filing fee of CAD $1,000 and commit to a Labour Market Benefit Plan which is a set of commitments to benefit the Canadian labour market as a result of hiring the foreign skilled worker.

The work permit can be requested for up to 3 years, however work permits are never issued beyond the validity of the passport. Work permits under this category can be extended and renewed.

Through the Global Talent Steam, spouses of candidates can also apply for an open-spousal work permit which allows them to work for any employer in Canada. Dependents of the family can apply for study permits. I always recommend that families apply together so that they can be approved together.

What are the eligibility requirements for immigrating through the Global Talent Stream? 

Yulia:  First, the job must be on the Global Talent Stream Occupations List, or the employer must be a designated referral partner if you’re applying through category A. The position must be full-time, and the pay must be based on the prevailing wage for the specific occupation and region.

For both categories A and B, the employer must complete a Labour Market Benefits Plan (LMBP) as part of the Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) application. The purpose of the LMBP is for the employer to show how hiring non-Canadian technology professionals can benefit the Canadian economy. The employer has to show that they are successfully meeting the commitments in their LMBP each year.

More over, the employer must be in good standing without any previous negative encounters with Employment and Social Development Canada, prove that they are engaged in a legitimate and operating business, and ensure that they have the means to support the wages of the foreign worker. The foreign worker must have prior matching work experience to work in the designated occupation.

If my U.S. employer has operations in Canada, what are my options?

Yulia: In that case, you can do an intra-company transfer rather than applying through the Global Talent Stream. A Labor Market Impact Assessment (LMIA) is not needed with this immigration path which means the application process is simpler and faster. To qualify, the company you work for must have operations in Canada as a parent company, branch, affiliate, or subsidiary. And, you must have at least one year of work experience in the company outside of Canada before the transfer.

If my U.S. employer DOES NOT have operations in Canada, what are my options?

Yulia: I get this question often from international students in the U.S. working on STEM OPT. If you want to continue working with your  current US company from Canada, you can work with a company like MobSquad. They act as your current company’s virtual Canadian subsidiary and sponsor your Canadian work permit and help you relocate to and get settled in Canada. MobSquad can also help you find a new opportunity and relocate you if you are looking to find a new technology job in Canada.

What are the biggest differences between the U.S. and Canadian immigration systems?

Yulia: The most popular work visa in the U.S. is the H-1B which uses a lottery system. This limits the number of visas given out each year regardless of how many applicants there are. Other U.S. visas have specific requirements which can be hard to understand and to meet. There are also limits on the number of immigrants allowed from specific countries.

On the other hand, Canada’s immigration system does not use a lottery or a capacity system for work permits. For permanent residence options, Canada uses a point system that awards scores based on the applicant’s background. There are also different options for applicants to choose from – federal or provincial programs. . The rules do not change no matter which country you are from. This simpler process means quicker processing times so that you can become a permanent resident sooner.

There are some alternatives to the point system, and MobSquad can help you understand and explore those. 

Why Should a Tech Professional Choose Canada Over the U.S.?

Yulia: Overall, Canada is much more open to immigrants than the U.S. As an immigrant myself, it is one of the most welcoming countries in the world. Canada’s immigration processes reflect that openness. They are faster, simpler, and fairer when compared to immigration processes in the U.S. The application process for employment-based green cards in the U.S. can take years while Canadian permanent residency applications can be processed within months.

Canada also boasts a high quality of life. For me, a big part of that is the high-quality education opportunities, universal health care, and low crime rates. Because of the openness towards immigrants, our cities are also very culturally diverse and vibrant. With the large number of young immigrants in the technology field, it’s easy to make new friends and build a community after relocating.

What’s the Best Piece of Advice You Have for Tech Professionals?

Yulia:  Network as much as you can. You want to try to connect with industry leaders whenever possible. Join professional organizations and attend networking events through your college or university. Focus on events specific to the tech industry or to international students. Also, make sure you are using LinkedIn and have your profile set to open to work if you are looking for new opportunities with Canadian employers.  I also encourage those on OPT to start looking into their options early.  I highly recommend reaching out to MobSquad to discuss what it could look like to port your job to Canada.

An Easy Path to Canadian Permanent Residency

International students with expiring STEM OPT or tech professionals looking to immigrate to Canada will find the process easier to navigate with the help of MobSquad’s immigration experts. With MobSquad, you can transition seamlessly to Canada in as little as 6-8 weeks. They can assist you whether you are looking for new work opportunities or want to continue working with your U.S. employer while living in Canada.

Not only that, working with a company like Mobsquad can also help ease the concerns that Canadian employers may have when hiring an international student – bettering your chances of getting on the path to Canadian permanent residency and citizenship.

ABOUT YULIA KAN

Yulia Kan is a Canadian Immigration Consultant at Envoy Global. She provides bespoke immigration advice and support to clients looking to immigrate to Canada.  She is an immigrant to Canada herself, starting her immigration journey as a student, then as a worker, then as a permanent resident, and now Yulia is a proud Canadian citizen. Her personal and professional experience navigating the immigration system makes her an invaluable resource and support to her clients.

ABOUT MOBSQUAD (mobsquad.io)

MobSquad helps technology professionals facing US work visa challenges remain working with their current company, nearshore from Canada. They also help global technology talent looking for new opportunities find rewarding careers in North America. MobSquad can obtain Canadian work visas for technology professionals (and their families) in as little as six to eight weeks, and Canadian permanent residency in about a year. They manage all ongoing administrative processes, including immigration support, relocation and resettlement services, payroll, legal, real estate, and accounting. For more information, visit https://www.mobsquad.io/.

Your STEM OPT visa has expired. What now?

This blog post was co-authored by MobSquad – MobSquad helps technology professionals continue working with their current U.S. company, nearshore from Canada.

 

The STEM OPT visa is a temporary work visa that allows international STEM students studying in the U.S. to remain in the U.S. to work for up to three years after graduation. When a STEM OPT visa expires, international students who wish to remain in the U.S. face a lot of uncertainty. Fortunately, there are several options to consider before or when your STEM OPT visa expires.

What Is STEM OPT?

The majority of international students in the U.S. have an F-1 visa which comes with the benefit of Optional Practical Training (OPT). OPT allows students to work in the U.S. for up to 12 months in a position related to their field of study. International students in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics (STEM) field have the option to extend OPT for an additional 24 months. That means with STEM OPT, an international student can remain in the country and work legally for up to three years. 

Learn more about the advantages of majoring in a STEM field in the U.S. from Interstride’s blog.

What to Do When Your STEM OPT Extension Expires

The reality for international students who wish to continue to live and work in the U.S. is that the U.S. has challenging immigration laws compared to other countries such as Canada. The U.S. rejects many highly-qualified work visa applicants despite the high demand for STEM professionals.

When your STEM OPT expires, you have just 60 days before you have to leave the country, and you cannot work during this 60-day grace period. Furthermore, many visas take more than two months to process, so if you wait until the last minute to seek out alternative ways to remain in the U.S., you may end up having to leave the country regardless. This could mean losing your employment in the U.S. and having to restart the immigration process. To avoid this, research these four options before your final year of STEM OPT.

(1) Apply for an H-1B Visa

The H-1B visa is a temporary, nonimmigrant work visa. To qualify, individuals must have a bachelor’s degree or advanced certification and an employer sponsor. Workers on an H-1B visa can be employed full-time or part-time. The visa lasts three years with the possibility to extend to six years. If your goal is permanent residence in the U.S., you can begin the process of applying for your green card while on an H-1B visa. 

Unfortunately, there are only 85,000 H-1Bs available each year. Due to the increased popularity of this visa, USCIS introduced a lottery system to select applicants. In 2022, only 26% of applications were selected in the lottery out of 480,000 total applicants. Those on a STEM OPT can enter into the H-1B visa lottery every year that their OPT is valid. This means that STEM OPT workers have three chances in the H-1B lottery, whereas regular OPT workers only get one chance before their OPT visa status expires.

(2) Enroll in Day 1 CPT to Earn an Advanced Degree 

The Day 1 Curricular Practical Training (CPT) program is an option for individuals who want to pursue a graduate degree and career in the U.S. The program allows students to begin working on the first day their graduate program begins. It must be renewed every year or every semester, depending on the university. 

CPT can only be used for degree programs that require an internship or practicum as part of the curriculum. The work can be full-time or part-time; however, students may find it challenging to work full-time while completing an advanced degree program. This option could delay career advancement, but set international students up for higher-paying opportunities in the future. Master’s programs can be expensive, so be sure to weigh the pros and cons of graduate school to determine the return on investment for your education. 

(3) Return to Your Home Country

With the increased openness to remote work in recent years, some U.S. companies may let you work remotely from your home country. This means you can stay on your current career path without losing any progress. However, the reality is that many companies do not allow remote work. Even if you are able to work, it will be challenging to work normal hours with your existing company given the time zone difference between your home country and the U.S. 

If you are open to living in your home country, here are the steps you can take:

  • Ask your current employer about work-from-home options before your STEM OPT expires. 
  • Specify that you will be working out of the country as some companies have laws requiring remote workers to remain in a certain area or nation. 

(4) Relocate to a More Welcoming Country like Canada

The U.S. has more challenging immigration laws than its friendly neighbor, Canada. The benefits of migrating to Canada include:

  • Similar culture as the U.S. – Most of Canada speaks English and shares similar values as the U.S., such as a strong sense of individualism.
  • Shares a border with the U.S. – Canada is next door to the U.S., meaning traveling to the U.S. is quick and easy. Time zones are the same, and the weather is fairly similar.  Canada also benefits from the North American Free Trade Agreement (NAFTA) for economic stability and integration with the U.S.  
  • High quality of life –  Canada boasts universal healthcare, high-quality public education, mandated paid maternity and paternity leave, and lower crime rates than the U.S.
  • Open and welcoming to newcomers – Canada has long been recognized as one of the most welcoming and accepting nations in the world, with progressive immigration policies that encourage foreigners to call Canada home. 
  • Merit-based permanent residency process – Unlike the U.S., Canada does not have limits on the number of permanent resident candidates accepted each year from certain countries. Canada uses a universal point system that favors highly-skilled tech workers.  

If you are working for a large company with operations in Canada, you may be able to apply for an intra-company transfer to Canada. However, if your current company does not have operations in Canada, you can work with MobSquad to act as a company’s “virtual” Canadian subsidiary. MobSquad helps technology professionals continue working with their current U.S. company, nearshore from Canada. They will help you obtain Canadian work permits for yourself and your family in as little as six to eight weeks, and Canadian permanent residency (the equivalent of a U.S. Green Card in Canada) in about one year.

ABOUT MOBSQUAD (mobsquad.io)

MobSquad helps technology professionals facing U.S. work visa challenges remain working with their current company, nearshore from Canada. They also help global technology talent looking for new opportunities find rewarding careers in North America. MobSquad can obtain Canadian work visas for technology professionals (and their families) in as little as six to eight weeks, and Canadian permanent residency in about a year. They manage all ongoing administrative processes, including immigration support, relocation and resettlement services, payroll, legal, offices, and accounting. For more information, visit https://www.mobsquad.io/.